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Dyngus Day word is out

Annual celebration compared to big, Polish wedding

Monday, April 1, 2013
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People dance the polka at the Rotterdam Elks Club to celebrate Dyngus Day on Monday.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
People dance the polka at the Rotterdam Elks Club to celebrate Dyngus Day on Monday.

— On Dyngus Day, everybody is Polish.

The holiday traditionally observed on the Monday after Easter unites revelers under the common banner celebrating Polish tradition. Whether it’s a playful lashing from a willow switch or twirling to the up-tempo beat of a polka dance, Dyngus Day has a little bit of something for everyone.

“It’s a huge party,” said Gerard Soliwoda Sr., who drove to Rotterdam from Philadelphia this week to celebrate the occasion sponsored by the Casimir Pulaski Society. “It’s almost like you’re going to a wedding with 800 of your good friends.”

For the annual celebration hosted at the Rotterdam Elks Lodge, there seems to be a few more Polish people every year. This year’s celebration began shortly after noon and had drawn roughly 1,000 people by early evening, eclipsing the total

number who attended during last year’s nine-hour celebration.

“The word is out,” said Mike Komazenski, shouting over the booming polka music echoing through the lodge.

Dyngus Day is traditionally associated with the baptism of Prince Mieszko I and his court in A.D. 966, but has since come to represent a day of Polish pride in the United States. Buffalo’s celebration annually draws roughly 60,000 people to the city and is usually credited with being the largest organized Dyngus Day celebration in the world.

Rotterdam’s celebration still isn’t challenging the one out west, which stretches across the city. But since it was hosted in a small Curry Road barroom several years ago, the local Dyngus Day has grown exponentially.

“It’s quite huge and getting larger every year,” said Stan Wilgocki, who founded the event five years ago.

Tipplers were tossing back 20-ounce Tyskie beers and Krupnik, a honey liquor. Food lovers were feasting on plates of kielbasa, served with sauerkraut and galumpkis.

Then there was polka — lots of polka. Ray Jay & The Carousels traveled from Pittsburgh to perform, while the Polka Country Musicians ventured up from Connecticut to play several sets.

And if nothing else, there were plenty of pussy willow switches to go around for courtship. It’s a Dyngus Day tradition to tap a love interest on the legs with the switch in the hope he or she reciprocates —perhaps with a splash of water.

Ted and Dixie Aniolek were thrilled to see their Polish heritage on display on such a grand scale. For the retired Rotterdam couple, the celebration represents a continuation of tradition and a gathering of good friends.

“It’s like a big family,” said the former deputy chief of the Schenectady Fire Department.

For Wilgocki, Dyngus Day represents a time when he and others can celebrate Polish tradition. His parents immigrated from Poland and he feels obligated to uphold the customs they brought with them many years ago.

“It’s about realizing where I am from and keeping those traditions alive.”

 
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